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A First Family of Tasajara by Bret Harte

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be able to give me the pleasure of your company, with whatever they
may give us here in the way of refreshment."

"I shall be very happy," returned John Milton with unmistakable
candor; "but perhaps some of your friends will be arriving in quest
of you, if they are not already here."

"Then they will join us or wait," said Mrs. Ashwood incisively,
with her first exhibition of the imperiousness of a rich and pretty
woman. Perhaps she was a little annoyed that her elaborate
introduction of herself had produced no reciprocal disclosure by
her companion. "Will you please send the landlord to me?" she
added.

John Milton disappeared in the hotel as she cantered to the porch.
In another moment she was giving the landlord her orders with the
easy confidence of one who knew herself only as an always welcome
and highly privileged guest, which was not without its effect.
"And," she added carelessly, "when everything is ready you will
please tell--Mr."--

"Harcourt," suggested the landlord promptly.

Mrs. Ashwood's perfectly trained face gave not the slightest sign
of the surprise that had overtaken her. "Of course,--Mr. Harcourt."

"You know he's the son of the millionaire," continued the landlord,
not at all unwilling to display the importance of the habitues of
Crystal Spring, "though they've quarreled and don't get on
together."

"I know," said the lady languidly, "and, if any one comes here for
ME, ask them to wait in the parlor until I come."

Then, submitting herself and her dusty habit to the awkward
ministration of the Irish chambermaid, she was quite thrilled with
a delightful curiosity. She vaguely remembered that she had heard
something of the Harcourt family discord,--but that was the
divorced daughter surely! And this young man was Harcourt's son,
and they had quarreled! A quarrel with a frank, open, ingenuous
fellow like that--a mere boy--could only be the father's fault.
Luckily she had never mentioned the name of Harcourt! She would
not now; he need not know that it was his father who had originated
the party; why should she make him uncomfortable for the few
moments they were together?

There was nothing of this in her face as she descended and joined
him. He thought that face handsome, well-bred, and refined. But
this breeding and refinement seemed to him--in his ignorance of the
world, possibly--as only a graceful concealment of a self of which
he knew nothing; and he was not surprised to find that her pretty
gray eyes, now no longer hidden by her veil, really told him no
more than her lips. He was a little afraid of her, and now that
she had lost her naive enthusiasm he was conscious of a vague
remorsefulness for his interrupted work in the forest. What was he
doing here? He who had avoided the cruel, selfish world of wealth
and pleasure,--a world that this woman represented,--the world that
had stood apart from him in the one dream of his life--and had let
Loo die! His quickly responsive face darkened.

"I am afraid I really interrupted you up there," she said gently,
looking in his face with an expression of unfeigned concern; "you
were at work of some kind, I know, and I have very selfishly
thought only of myself. But the whole scene was so new to me, and
I so rarely meet any one who sees things as I do, that I know you
will forgive me." She bent her eyes upon him with a certain soft
timidity. "You are an artist?"

"I am afraid not," he said, coloring and smiling faintly; "I don't
think I could draw a straight line."

"Don't try to; they're not pretty, and the mere ability to draw
them straight or curved doesn't make an artist. But you are a
LOVER of nature, I know, and from what I have heard you say I
believe you can do what lovers cannot do,--make others feel as they
do,--and that is what I call being an artist. You write? You are
a poet?"

"Oh dear, no," he said with a smile, half of relief and half of
naive superiority, "I'm a prose writer--on a daily newspaper."

To his surprise she was not disconcerted; rather a look of
animation lit up her face as she said brightly, "Oh, then, you can
of course satisfy my curiosity about something. You know the road
from San Francisco to the Cliff House. Except for the view of the
sea-lions when one gets there it's stupid; my brother says it's
like all the San Francisco excursions,--a dusty drive with a julep
at the end of it. Well, one day we were coming back from a drive
there, and when we were beginning to wind along the brow of that
dreadful staring Lone Mountain Cemetery, I said I would get out and
walk, and avoid the obtrusive glitter of those tombstones rising
before me all the way. I pushed open a little gate and passed in.
Once among these funereal shrubs and cold statuesque lilies
everything was changed; I saw the staring tombstones no longer,
for, like them, I seemed to be always facing the sea. The road had
vanished; everything had vanished but the endless waste of ocean
below me, and the last slope of rock and sand. It seemed to be the
fittest place for a cemetery,--this end of the crumbling earth,--
this beginning of the eternal sea. There! don't think that idea my
own, or that I thought of it then. No,--I read it all afterwards,
and that's why I'm telling you this."

She could not help smiling at his now attentive face, and went on:
"Some days afterwards I got hold of a newspaper four or six months
old, and there was a description of all that I thought I had seen
and felt,--only far more beautiful and touching, as you shall see,
for I cut it out of the paper and have kept it. It seemed to me
that it must be some personal experience,--as if the writer had
followed some dear friend there,--although it was with the
unostentation and indefiniteness of true and delicate feeling. It
impressed me so much that I went back there twice or thrice, and
always seemed to move to the rhythm of that beautiful funeral
march--and I am afraid, being a woman, that I wandered around among
the graves as though I could find out who it was that had been sung
so sweetly, and if it were man or woman. I've got it here," she
said, taking a dainty ivory porte-monnaie from her pocket and
picking out with two slim finger-tips a folded slip of newspaper;
"and I thought that maybe you might recognize the style of the
writer, and perhaps know something of his history. For I believe
he has one. There! that is only a part of the article, of course,
but it is the part that interested me. Just read from there," she
pointed, leaning partly over his shoulder so that her soft breath
stirred his hair, "to the end; it isn't long."

In the film that seemed to come across his eyes, suddenly the print
appeared blurred and indistinct. But he knew that she had put into
his hand something he had written after the death of his wife;
something spontaneous and impulsive, when her loss still filled his
days and nights and almost unconsciously swayed his pen. He
remembered that his eyes had been as dim when he wrote it--and now--
handed to him by this smiling, well-to-do woman, he was as shocked
at first as if he had suddenly found her reading his private
letters. This was followed by a sudden sense of shame that he had
ever thus publicly bared his feelings, and then by the illogical
but irresistible conviction that it was false and stupid. The few
phrases she had pointed out appeared as cheap and hollow rhetoric
amid the surroundings of their social tete-a-tete over the
luncheon-table. There was small danger that this heady wine of
woman's praise would make him betray himself; there was no sign of
gratified authorship in his voice as he quietly laid down the paper
and said dryly: "I am afraid I can't help you. You know it may be
purely fanciful."

"I don't think so," said Mrs. Ashwood thoughtfully. "At the same
time it doesn't strike me as a very abiding grief for that very
reason. It's TOO sympathetic. It strikes me that it might be the
first grief of some one too young to be inured to sorrow or
experienced enough to accept it as the common lot. But like all
youthful impressions it is very sincere and true while it lasts. I
don't know whether one gets anything more real when one gets
older."

With an insincerity he could not account for, he now felt inclined
to defend his previous sentiment, although all the while conscious
of a certain charm in his companion's graceful skepticism. He had
in his truthfulness and independence hitherto always been quite
free from that feeble admiration of cynicism which attacks the
intellectually weak and immature, and his present predilection may
have been due more to her charming personality. She was not at all
like his sisters; she had none of Clementina's cold abstraction,
and none of Euphemia's sharp and demonstrative effusiveness. And
in his secret consciousness of her flattering foreknowledge of him,
with her assurance that before they had ever met he had unwittingly
influenced her, he began to feel more at his ease. His fair
companion also, in the equally secret knowledge she had acquired of
his history, felt as secure as if she had been formally introduced.
Nobody could find fault with her for showing civility to the
ostensible son of her host; it was not necessary that she should be
aware of their family differences. There was a charm too in their
enforced isolation, in what was the exceptional solitude of the
little hotel that day, and the seclusion of their table by the
window of the dining-room, which gave a charming domesticity to
their repast. From time to time they glanced down the lonely
canyon, losing itself in the afternoon shadow. Nevertheless Mrs.
Ashwood's preoccupation with Nature did not preclude a human
curiosity to hear something more of John Milton's quarrel with his
father. There was certainly nothing of the prodigal son about him;
there was no precocious evil knowledge in his frank eyes; no record
of excesses in his healthy, fresh complexion; no unwholesome or
disturbed tastes in what she had seen of his rural preferences and
understanding of natural beauty. To have attempted any direct
questioning that would have revealed his name and identity would
have obliged her to speak of herself as his father's guest. She
began indirectly; he had said he had been a reporter, and he was
still a chronicler of this strange life. He had of course heard of
many cases of family feuds and estrangements? Her brother had told
her of some dreadful vendettas he had known in the Southwest, and
how whole families had been divided. Since she had been here she
had heard of odd cases of brothers meeting accidentally after long
and unaccounted separations; of husbands suddenly confronted with
wives they had deserted; of fathers encountering discarded sons!

John Milton's face betrayed no uneasy consciousness. If anything
it was beginning to glow with a boyish admiration of the grace and
intelligence of the fair speaker, that was perhaps heightened by an
assumption of half coquettish discomfiture.

"You are laughing at me!" she said finally. "But inhuman and
selfish as these stories may seem, and sometimes are, I believe
that these curious estrangements and separations often come from
some fatal weakness of temperament that might be strengthened, or
some trivial misunderstanding that could be explained. It is
separation that makes them seem irrevocable only because they are
inexplicable, and a vague memory always seems more terrible than a
definite one. Facts may be forgiven and forgotten, but mysteries
haunt one always. I believe there are weak, sensitive people who
dread to put their wrongs into shape; those are the kind who sulk,
and when you add separation to sulking, reconciliation becomes
impossible. I knew a very singular case of that kind once. If you
like, I'll tell it to you. May be you will be able, some day, to
weave it into one of your writings. And it's quite true."

It is hardly necessary to say that John Milton had not been touched
by any personal significance in his companion's speech, whatever
she may have intended; and it is equally true that whether she had
presently forgotten her purpose, or had become suddenly interested
in her own conversation, her face grew more animated, her manner
more confidential, and something of the youthful enthusiasm she had
shown in the mountain seemed to come back to her.

"I might say it happened anywhere and call the people M. or N.,
but it really did occur in my own family, and although I was much
younger at the time it impressed me very strongly. My cousin, who
had been my playmate, was an orphan, and had been intrusted to the
care of my father, who was his guardian. He was always a clever
boy, but singularly sensitive and quick to take offense. Perhaps
it was because the little property his father had left made him
partly dependent on my father, and that I was rich, but he seemed
to feel the disparity in our positions. I was too young to
understand it; I think it existed only in his imagination, for I
believe we were treated alike. But I remember that he was full of
vague threats of running away and going to sea, and that it was
part of his weak temperament to terrify me with his extravagant
confidences. I was always frightened when, after one of those
scenes, he would pack his valise or perhaps only tie up a few
things in a handkerchief, as in the advertisement pictures of the
runaway slaves, and declare that we would never lay eyes upon him
again. At first I never saw the ridiculousness of all this,--for I
ought to have told you that he was a rather delicate and timid boy,
and quite unfitted for a rough life or any exposure,--but others
did, and one day I laughed at him and told him he was afraid. I
shall never forget the expression of his face and never forgive
myself for it. He went away,--but he returned the next day! He
threatened once to commit suicide, left his clothes on the bank of
the river, and came home in another suit of clothes he had taken
with him. When I was sent abroad to school I lost sight of him;
when I returned he was at college, apparently unchanged. When he
came home for vacation, far from having been subdued by contact
with strangers, it seemed that his unhappy sensitiveness had been
only intensified by the ridicule of his fellows. He had even
acquired a most ridiculous theory about the degrading effects of
civilization, and wanted to go back to a state of barbarism. He
said the wilderness was the only true home of man. My father,
instead of bearing with what I believe was his infirmity, dryly
offered him the means to try his experiment. He started for some
place in Texas, saying we would never hear from him again. A month
after he wrote for more money. My father replied rather impatiently,
I suppose,--I never knew exactly what he wrote. That was some years
ago. He had told the truth at last, for we never heard from him
again."

It is to be feared that John Milton was following the animated lips
and eyes of the fair speaker rather than her story. Perhaps that
was the reason why he said, "May he not have been a disappointed
man?"

"I don't understand," she said simply.

"Perhaps," said John Milton with a boyish blush, "you may have
unconsciously raised hopes in his heart--and"--

"I should hardly attempt to interest a chronicler of adventure like
you in such a very commonplace, every-day style of romance," she
said, with a little impatience, "even if my vanity compelled me to
make such confidences to a stranger. No,--it was nothing quite as
vulgar as that. And," she added quickly, with a playfully amused
smile as she saw the young fellow's evident distress, "I should
have probably heard from him again. Those stories always end in
that way."

"And you think?"--said John Milton.

"I think," said Mrs. Ashwood slowly, "that he actually did commit
suicide--or effaced himself in some way, just as firmly as I
believe he might have been saved by judicious treatment. Otherwise
we should have heard from him. You'll say that's only a woman's
reasoning--but I think our perceptions are often instinctive, and I
knew his character."

Still following the play of her delicate features into a romance of
his own weaving, the imaginative young reporter who had seen so
much from the heights of Russian Hill said earnestly, "Then I have
your permission to use this material at any future time?"

"Yes," said the lady smilingly.

"And you will not mind if I should take some liberties with the
text?"

"I must of course leave something to your artistic taste. But you
will let me see it?"

There were voices outside now, breaking the silence of the veranda.
They had been so preoccupied as not to notice the arrival of a
horseman. Steps came along the passage; the landlord returned.
Mrs. Ashwood turned quickly towards him.

"Mr. Grant, of your party, ma'am, to fetch you."

She saw an unmistakable change in her young friend's mobile face.
"I will be ready in a moment," she said to the landlord. Then,
turning to John Milton, the arch-hypocrite said sweetly: "My
brother must have known instinctively that I was in good hands, as
he didn't come. But I am sorry, for I should have so liked to
introduce him to you--although by the way," with a bright smile, "I
don't think you have yet told me your name. I know I couldn't have
FORGOTTEN it."

"Harcourt," said John Milton, with a half-embarrassed laugh.

"But you must come and see me, Mr.--Mr. Harcourt," she said,
producing a card from a case already in her fingers, "at my hotel,
and let my brother thank you there for your kindness and gallantry
to a stranger. I shall be here a few weeks longer before we go
south to look for a place where my brother can winter. DO come and
see me, although I cannot introduce you to anything as real and
beautiful as what YOU have shown me to-day. Good-by, Mr. Harcourt;
I won't trouble you to come down and bore yourself with my escort's
questions and congratulations."

She bent her head and allowed her soft eyes to rest upon his with a
graciousness that was beyond her speech, pulled her veil over her
eyes again, with a pretty suggestion that she had no further use
for them, and taking her riding-skirt lightly in her hand seemed to
glide from the room.

On her way to San Mateo, where it appeared the disorganized party
had prolonged their visit to accept an invitation to dine with a
local magnate, she was pleasantly conversational with the slightly
abstracted Grant. She was so sorry to have given them all this
trouble and anxiety! Of course she ought to have waited at the
fork of the road, but she had never doubted but she could rejoin
them presently on the main road. She was glad that Miss Euphemia's
runaway horse had been stopped without accident; it would have been
dreadful if anything had happened to HER; Mr. Harcourt seemed so
wrapped up in his girls. It was a pity they never had a son--Ah?
Indeed! Then there was a son? So--and father and son had
quarreled? That was so sad. And for some trifling cause, no
doubt?

"I believe he married the housemaid," said Grant grimly. "Be
careful!--Allow me."

"It's no use!" said Mrs. Ashwood, flushing with pink impatience, as
she recovered her seat, which a sudden bolt of her mustang had
imperiled, "I really can't make out the tricks of this beast!
Thank you," she added, with a sweet smile, "but I think I can
manage him now. I can't see why he stopped. I'll be more careful.
You were saying the son was married--surely not that boy!"

"Boy!" echoed Grant. "Then you know?"--

"I mean of course he must be a boy--they all grew up here--and it
was only five or six years ago that their parents emigrated," she
retorted a little impatiently. "And what about this creature?"

"Your horse?"

"You know I mean the woman he married. Of course she was older
than he--and caught him?"

"I think there was a year or two difference," said Grant quietly.

"Yes, but your gallantry keeps you from telling the truth; which is
that the women, in cases of this kind, are much older and more
experienced."

"Are they? Well, perhaps she is, NOW. She is dead."

Mrs. Ashwood walked her horse. "Poor thing," she said. Then a
sudden idea took possession of her and brought a film to her eyes.
"How long ago?" she asked in a low voice.

"About six or seven months, I think. I believe there was a baby
who died too."

She continued to walk her horse slowly, stroking its curved neck.
"I think it's perfectly shameful!" she said suddenly.

"Not so bad as that, Mrs. Ashwood, surely. The girl may have loved
him--and he"--

"You know perfectly what I mean, Mr. Grant. I speak of the conduct
of the mother and father and those two sisters!"

Grant slightly elevated his eyebrows. "But you forget, Mrs.
Ashwood. It was young Harcourt and his wife's own act. They
preferred to take their own path and keep it."

"I think," said Mrs. Ashwood authoritatively, "that the idea of
leaving those two unfortunate children to suffer and struggle on
alone--out there--on the sand hills of San Francisco--was simply
disgraceful!"

Later that evening she was unreasonably annoyed to find that her
brother, Mr. John Shipley, had taken advantage of the absence of
Grant to pay marked attention to Clementina, and had even prevailed
upon that imperious goddess to accompany him after dinner on a
moonlight stroll upon the veranda and terraces of Los Pajaros.
Nevertheless she seemed to recover her spirits enough to talk
volubly of the beautiful scenery she had discovered in her late
perilous abandonment in the wilds of the Coast Range; to aver her
intention to visit it again; to speak of it in a severely practical
way as offering a far better site for the cottages of the young
married couples just beginning life than the outskirts of towns or
the bleak sand hills of San Francisco; and thence by graceful
degrees into a dissertation upon popular fallacies in regard to
hasty marriages, and the mistaken idea of some parents in not
accepting the inevitable and making the best of it. She still
found time to enter into an appreciative and exhaustive criticism
upon the literature and journalistic enterprise of the Pacific
Coast with the proprietor of the "Pioneer," and to cause that
gentleman to declare that whatever people might say about rich and
fashionable Eastern women, that Mrs. Ashwood's head was about as
level as it was pretty.

The next morning found her more thoughtful and subdued, and when
her brother came upon her sitting on the veranda, while the party
were preparing to return, she was reading a newspaper slip that she
had taken from her porte-monnaie, with a face that was partly
shadowed.

"What have you struck there, Conny?" said her brother gayly. "It
looks too serious for a recipe."

"Something I should like you to read some time, Jack," she said,
lifting her lashes with a slight timidity, "if you would take the
trouble. I really wonder how it would impress you."

"Pass it over," said Jack Shipley good-humoredly, with his cigar
between his lips. "I'll take it now."

She handed him the slip and turned partly away; he took it, glanced
at it sideways, turned it over, and suddenly his look grew
concentrated, and he took the cigar from his lips.

"Well," she said playfully, turning to him again. "What do you
think of it?"

"Think of it?" he said with a rising color. "I think it's
infamous! Who did it?"

She stared at him, then glanced quickly at the slip. "What are you
reading?" she said.

"This, of course," he said impatiently. "What you gave me." But
he was pointing to THE OTHER SIDE of the newspaper slip.

She took it from him impatiently and read for the first time the
printing on the reverse side of the article she had treasured so
long. It was the concluding paragraph of an apparently larger
editorial. "One thing is certain, that a man in Daniel Harcourt's
position cannot afford to pass over in silence accusations like the
above, that affect not only his private character, but the
integrity of his title to the land that was the foundation of his
fortune. When trickery, sharp practice, and even criminality in
the past are more than hinted at, they cannot be met by mere
pompous silence or allusions to private position, social prestige,
or distinguished friends in the present."

Mrs. Ashwood turned the slip over with scornful impatience, a
pretty uplifting of her eyebrows and a slight curl of her lip. "I
suppose none of those people's beginnings can bear looking into--
and they certainly should be the last ones to find fault with
anybody. But, good gracious, Jack! what has this to do with you?"

"With me?" said Shipley angrily. "Why, I proposed to Clementina
last night!"

CHAPTER IX.

The wayfarers on the Tasajara turnpike, whom Mr. Daniel Harcourt
passed with his fast trotting mare and sulky, saw that their great
fellow-townsman was more than usually preoccupied and curt in his
acknowledgment of their salutations. Nevertheless as he drew near
the creek, he partly checked his horse, and when he reached a
slight acclivity of the interminable plain--which had really been
the bank of the creek in bygone days--he pulled up, alighted, tied
his horse to a rail fence, and clambering over the inclosure made
his way along the ridge. It was covered with nettles, thistles,
and a few wiry dwarf larches of native growth; dust from the
adjacent highway had invaded it, with a few scattered and torn
handbills, waste paper, rags, empty provision cans, and other
suburban debris. Yet it was the site of 'Lige Curtis's cabin, long
since erased and forgotten. The bed of the old creek had receded;
the last tules had been cleared away; the channel and embarcadero
were half a mile from the bank and log whereon the pioneer of
Tasajara had idly sunned himself.

Mr. Harcourt walked on, occasionally turning over the scattered
objects with his foot, and stopping at times to examine the ground
more closely. It had not apparently been disturbed since he
himself, six years ago, had razed the wretched shanty and carried
off its timbers to aid in the erection of a larger cabin further
inland. He raised his eyes to the prospect before him,--to the
town with its steamboats lying at the wharves, to the grain
elevator, the warehouses, the railroad station with its puffing
engines, the flagstaff of Harcourt House and the clustering roofs
of the town, and beyond, the painted dome of his last creation, the
Free Library. This was all HIS work, HIS planning, HIS foresight,
whatever they might say of the wandering drunkard from whose
tremulous fingers he had snatched the opportunity. They could not
take THAT from him, however they might follow him with envy and
reviling, any more than they could wrest from him the five years of
peaceful possession. It was with something of the prosperous
consciousness with which he had mounted the platform on the opening
of the Free Library, that he now climbed into his buggy and drove
away.

Nevertheless he stopped at his Land Office as he drove into town,
and gave a few orders. "I want a strong picket fence put around
the fifty-vara lot in block fifty-seven, and the ground cleared up
at once. Let me know when the men get to work, and I'll overlook
them."

Re-entering his own house in the square, where Mrs. Harcourt and
Clementina--who often accompanied him in those business visits--
were waiting for him with luncheon, he smiled somewhat superciliously
as the servant informed him that "Professor Grant had just arrived."
Really that man was trying to make the most of his time with
Clementina! Perhaps the rival attractions of that Boston swell
Shipley had something to do with it! He must positively talk to
Clementina about this. In point of fact he himself was a little
disappointed in Grant, who, since his offer to take the task of
hunting down his calumniators, had really done nothing. He turned
into his study, but was slightly astonished to find that Grant,
instead of paying court to Clementina in the adjoining drawing-room,
was sitting rather thoughtfully in his own armchair.

He rose as Harcourt entered. "I didn't let them announce me to
the ladies," he said, "as I have some important business with you
first, and we may find it necessary that I should take the next
train back to town. You remember that a few weeks ago I offered to
look into the matter of those slanders against you. I apprehended
it would be a trifling matter of envy or jealousy on the part of
your old associates or neighbors which could be put straight with a
little good feeling; but I must be frank with you, Harcourt, and
say at the beginning that it turns out to be an infernally ugly
business. Call it conspiracy if you like, or organized hostility,
I'm afraid it will require a lawyer rather than an arbitrator to
manage it, and the sooner the better. For the most unpleasant
thing about it is, that I can't find out exactly HOW BAD it is!"

Unfortunately the weaker instinct of Harcourt's nature was first
roused; the vulgar rage which confounds the bearer of ill news with
the news itself filled his breast. "And this is all that your
confounded intermeddling came to?" he said brutally.

"No," said Grant quietly, with a preoccupied ignoring of the insult
that was more hopeless for Harcourt. "I found out that it is
claimed that this 'Lige Curtis was not drowned nor lost that night;
but that he escaped, and for three years has convinced another man
that you are wrongfully in possession of this land; that these two
naturally hold you in their power, and that they are only waiting
for you to be forced into legal proceedings for slander to prove
all their charges. Until then, for some reason best known to
themselves, Curtis remains in the background."

"Does he deny the deed under which I hold the property?" said
Harcourt savagely.

"He says it was only a security for a trifling loan, and not an
actual transfer."

"And don't those fools know that his security could be forfeited?"

"Yes, but not in the way it is recorded in the county clerk's
office. They say that the record shows that there was an
interpolation in the paper he left with you--which was a forgery.
Briefly, Harcourt, you are accused of that. More,--it is intimated
that when he fell into the creek that night, and escaped on a raft
that was floating past, that he had been first stunned by a blow
from some one interested in getting rid of him."

He paused and glanced out of the window.

"Is that all?" asked Harcourt in a perfectly quiet, steady, voice.

"All!" replied Grant, struck with the change in his companion's
manner, and turning his eyes upon him quickly.

The change indeed was marked and significant. Whether from relief
at knowing the worst, or whether he was experiencing the same
reaction from the utter falsity of this last accusation that he had
felt when Grant had unintentionally wronged him in his previous
recollection, certain it is that some unknown reserve of strength
in his own nature, of which he knew nothing before, suddenly came
to his aid in this extremity. It invested him with an uncouth
dignity that for the first time excited Grant's respect.

"I beg your pardon, Grant, for the hasty way I spoke to you a
moment ago, for I thank you, and appreciate thoroughly and
sincerely what you have done. You are right; it is a matter for
fighting and not fussing over. But I must have a head to hit.
Whose is it?"

"The man who holds himself legally responsible is Fletcher,--the
proprietor of the 'Clarion,' and a man of property."

"The 'Clarion'? That is the paper which began the attack?" said
Harcourt.

"Yes, and it is only fair to tell you here that your son threw up
his place on it in consequence of its attack upon you."

There was perhaps the slightest possible shrinking in Harcourt's
eyelids--the one congenital likeness to his discarded son--but his
otherwise calm demeanor did not change. Grant went on more
cheerfully: "I've told you all I know. When I spoke of an unknown
WORST, I did not refer to any further accusation, but to whatever
evidence they might have fabricated or suborned to prove any one of
them. It is only the strength and fairness of the hands they hold
that is uncertain. Against that you have your certain uncontested
possession, the peculiar character and antecedents of this 'Lige
Curtis, which would make his evidence untrustworthy and even make
it difficult for them to establish his identity. I am told that
his failure to contest your appropriation of his property is
explained by the fact of his being absent from the country most of
the time; but again, this would not account for their silence until
within the last six months, unless they have been waiting for
further evidence to establish it. But even then they must have
known that the time of recovery had passed. You are a practical
man, Harcourt; I needn't tell you therefore what your lawyer will
probably tell you, that practically, so far as your rights are
concerned, you remain as before these calumnies; that a cause of
action unprosecuted or in abeyance is practically no cause, and
that it is not for you to anticipate one. BUT"--

He paused and looked steadily at Harcourt. Harcourt met his look
with a dull, ox-like stolidity. "I shall begin the suit at once,"
he said.

"And I," said Grant, holding out his hand, "will stand by you. But
tell me now what you knew of this man Curtis,--his character and
disposition; it may be some clue as to what are his methods and his
intentions."

Harcourt briefly sketched 'Lige Curtis as he knew him and
understood him. It was another indication of his reserved power
that the description was so singularly clear, practical,
unprejudiced, and impartial that it impressed Grant with its
truthfulness.

"I can't make him out," he said; "you have drawn a weak, but
neither a dishonest nor malignant man. There must have been
somebody behind him. Can you think of any personal enemy?"

"I have been subjected to the usual jealousy and envy of my old
neighbors, I suppose, but nothing more. I have harmed no one
knowingly."

Grant was silent; it had flashed across him that Rice might have
harbored revenge for his father-in-law's interference in his brief
matrimonial experience. He had also suddenly recalled his
conversation with Billings on the day that he first arrived at
Tasajara. It would not be strange if this man had some intimation
of the secret. He would try to find him that evening. He rose.

"You will stay to dinner? My wife and Clementina will expect you."

"Not to-night; I am dining at the hotel," said Grant, smilingly;
"but I will come in later in the evening if I may." He paused
hesitatingly for a moment. "Have your wife and daughter ever
expressed any opinion on this matter?"

"No," said Harcourt. "Mrs. Harcourt knows nothing of anything that
does not happen IN the house; Euphemia knows only the things that
happen out of it where she is visiting--and I suppose that young
men prefer to talk to her about other things than the slanders of
her father. And Clementina--well, you know how calm and superior
to these things SHE is."

"For that very reason I thought that perhaps she might be able to
see them more clearly,--but no matter! I dare say you are quite
right in not discussing them at home." This was the fact, although
Grant had not forgotten that Harcourt had put forward his daughters
as a reason for stopping the scandal some weeks before,--a reason
which, however, seemed never to have been borne out by any apparent
sensitiveness of the girls themselves.

When Grant had left, Harcourt remained for some moments steadfastly
gazing from the window over the Tasajara plain. He had not lost
his look of concentrated power, nor his determination to fight. A
struggle between himself and the phantoms of the past had become
now a necessary stimulus for its own sake,--for the sake of his
mental and physical equipoise. He saw before him the pale,
agitated, irresolute features of 'Lige Curtis,--not the man HE had
injured, but the man who had injured HIM, whose spirit was
aimlessly and wantonly--for he had never attempted to get back his
possessions in his lifetime, nor ever tried to communicate with the
possessor--striking at him in the shadow. And it was THAT man,
that pale, writhing, frightened wretch whom he had once mercifully
helped! Yes, whose LIFE he had even saved that night from exposure
and delirium tremens when he had given him the whiskey. And this
life he had saved, only to have it set in motion a conspiracy to
ruin him! Who knows that 'Lige had not purposely conceived what
they had believed to be an attempt at suicide, only to cast
suspicion of murder on HIM! From which it will be perceived that
Harcourt's powers of moral reasoning had not improved in five
years, and that even the impartiality he had just shown in his
description of 'Lige to Grant had been swallowed up in this new
sense of injury. The founder of Tasajara, whose cool business
logic, unfailing foresight, and practical deductions were never at
fault, was once more childishly adrift in his moral ethics.

And there was Clementina, of whose judgment Grant had spoken so
persistently,--could she assist him? It was true, as he had said,
he had never talked to her of his affairs. In his sometimes uneasy
consciousness of her superiority he had shrunk from even revealing
his anxieties, much less his actual secret, and from anything that
might prejudice the lofty paternal attitude he had taken towards
his daughters from the beginning of his good fortune. He was never
quite sure if her acceptance of it was real; he was never entirely
free from a certain jealousy that always mingled with his pride in
her superior rectitude; and yet his feeling was distinct from the
good-natured contempt he had for his wife's loyalty, the anger and
suspicion that his son's opposition had provoked, and the half-
affectionate toleration he had felt for Euphemia's waywardness.
However he would sound Clementina without betraying himself.

He was anticipated by a slight step in the passage and the pushing
open of his study door. The tall, graceful figure of the girl
herself stood in the opening.

"They tell me Mr. Grant has been here. Does he stay to dinner?"

"No, he has an engagement at the hotel, but he will probably drop
in later. Come in, Clemmy, I want to talk to you. Shut the door
and sit down."

She slipped in quietly, shut the door, took a seat on the sofa,
softly smoothed down her gown, and turned her graceful head and
serenely composed face towards him. Sitting thus she looked like
some finely finished painting that decorated rather than belonged
to the room,--not only distinctly alien to the flesh and blood
relative before her, but to the house, and even the local,
monotonous landscape beyond the window with the shining new
shingles and chimneys that cut the new blue sky. These singular
perfections seemed to increase in Harcourt's mind the exasperating
sense of injury inflicted upon him by 'Lige's exposures. With a
daughter so incomparably gifted,--a matchless creation that was
enough in herself to ennoble that fortune which his own skill and
genius had lifted from the muddy tules of Tasajara where this 'Lige
had left it,--that SHE should be subjected to this annoyance seemed
an infamy that Providence could not allow! What was his mere
venial transgression to this exaggerated retribution?

"Clemmy, girl, I'm going to ask you a question. Listen, pet." He
had begun with a reminiscent tenderness of the epoch of her
childhood, but meeting the unresponding maturity of her clear eyes
he abandoned it. "You know, Clementina, I have never interfered in
your affairs, nor tried to influence your friendships for anybody.
Whatever people may have to say of me they can't say that! I've
always trusted you, as I would myself, to choose your own
associates; I have never regretted it, and I don't regret it now.
But I'd like to know--I have reasons to-day for asking--how matters
stand between you and Grant."

The Parian head of Minerva on the bookcase above her did not offer
the spectator a face less free from maidenly confusion than
Clementina's at that moment. Her father had certainly expected
none, but he was not prepared for the perfect coolness of her
reply.

"Do you mean, have I ACCEPTED him?"

"No,--well--yes."

"No, then! Is that what he wished to see you about? It was
understood that he was not to allude again to the subject to any
one."

"He has not to ME. It was only my own idea. He had something very
different to tell me. You may not know, Clementina," he begun
cautiously, "that I have been lately the subject of some anonymous
slanders, and Grant has taken the trouble to track them down for
me. It is a calumny that goes back as far as Sidon, and I may want
your level head and good memory to help me to refute it." He then
repeated calmly and clearly, with no trace of the fury that had
raged within him a moment before, the substance of Grant's
revelation.

The young girl listened without apparent emotion. When he had
finished she said quickly: "And what do you want me to recollect?"

The hardest part of Harcourt's task was coming. "Well, don't you
remember that I told you the day the surveyors went away--that--I
had bought this land of 'Lige Curtis some time before?"

"Yes, I remember your saying so, but"--

"But what?"

"I thought you only meant that to satisfy mother."

Daniel Harcourt felt the blood settling round his heart, but he was
constrained by an irresistible impulse to know the worst. "Well,
what did YOU think it really was?"

"I only thought that 'Lige Curtis had simply let you have it,
that's all."

Harcourt breathed again. "But what for? Why should he?"

"Well--ON MY ACCOUNT."

"On YOUR account! What in Heaven's name had YOU to do with it?"

"He loved me." There was not the slightest trace of vanity, self-
consciousness or coquetry in her quiet, fateful face, and for this
very reason Harcourt knew that she was speaking the truth.

"Loved YOU!--you, Clementina!--my daughter! Did he ever TELL you
so?"

"Not in words. He used to walk up and down on the road when I was
at the back window or in the garden, and often hung about the bank
of the creek for hours, like some animal. I don't think the others
saw him, and when they did they thought it was Parmlee for
Euphemia. Even Euphemia thought so too, and that was why she was
so conceited and hard to Parmlee towards the end. She thought it
was Parmlee that night when Grant and Rice came; but it was 'Lige
Curtis who had been watching the window lights in the rain, and who
must have gone off at last to speak to you in the store. I always
let Phemie believe that it was Parmlee,--it seemed to please her."

There was not the least tone of mischief or superiority, or even of
patronage in her manner. It was as quiet and cruel as the fate
that might have led 'Lige to his destruction. Even her father felt
a slight thrill of awe as she paused. "Then he never really spoke
to you?" he asked hurriedly.

"Only once. I was gathering swamp lilies all alone, a mile below
the bend of the creek, and he came upon me suddenly. Perhaps it
was that I didn't jump or start--I didn't see anything to jump or
start at--that he said, 'You're not frightened at me, Miss
Harcourt, like the other girls? You don't think I'm drunk or half
mad--as they do?' I don't remember exactly what I said, but it
meant that whether he was drunk or half mad or sober I didn't see
any reason to be afraid of him. And then he told me that if I was
fond of swamp lilies I might have all I wanted at his place, and
for the matter of that the place too, as he was going away, for he
couldn't stand the loneliness any longer. He said that he had
nothing in common with the place and the people--no more than I
had--and that was what he had always fancied in me. I told him
that if he felt in that way about his place he ought to leave it,
or sell it to some one who cared for it, and go away. That must
have been in his mind when he offered it to you,--at least that's
what I thought when you told us you had bought it. I didn't know
but what he might have told you, but you didn't care to say it
before mother."

Mr. Harcourt sat gazing at her with breathless amazement. "And
you--think that--'Lige Curtis--lov--liked you?"

"Yes, I think he did--and that he does now!"

"NOW! What do you mean? The man is dead!" said Harcourt starting.

"That's just what I don't believe."

"Impossible! Think of what you are saying."

"I never could quite understand or feel that he was dead when
everybody said so, and now that I've heard this story I KNOW that
he is living."

"But why did he not make himself known in time to claim the
property?"

"Because he did not care for it."

"What did he care for, then?"

"Me, I suppose."

"But this calumny is not like a man who loves you."

"It is like a JEALOUS one."

With an effort Harcourt threw off his bewildered incredulity and
grasped the situation. He would have to contend with his enemy in
the flesh and blood, but that flesh and blood would be very weak in
the hands of the impassive girl beside him. His face lightened.

The same idea might have been in Clementina's mind when she spoke
again, although her face had remained unchanged. "I do not see why
YOU should bother yourself further about it," she said. "It is
only a matter between myself and him; you can leave it to me."

"But if you are mistaken and he should not be living?"

"I am not mistaken. I am even certain now that I have seen him."

"Seen him!"

"Yes," said the girl with the first trace of animation in her face.
"It was four or five months ago when we were visiting the Briones
at Monterey. We had ridden out to the old Mission by moonlight.
There were some Mexicans lounging around the posada, and one of
them attracted my attention by the way he seemed to watch me,
without revealing any more of his face than I could see between his
serape and the black silk handkerchief that was tied around his
head under his sombrero. But I knew he was an American--and his
eyes were familiar. I believe it was he."

"Why did you not speak of it before?"

The look of animation died out of the girl's face. "Why should I?"
she said listlessly. "I did not know of these reports then. He
was nothing more to us. You wouldn't have cared to see him again."
She rose, smoothed out her skirt and stood looking at her father.
"There is one thing, of course, that you'll do at once."

Her voice had changed so oddly that he said quickly: "What's that?"

"Call Grant off the scent. He'll only frighten or exasperate your
game, and that's what you don't want."

Her voice was as imperious as it had been previously listless. And
it was the first time he had ever known her to use slang.

It seemed as startling as if it had fallen from the marble lips
above him.

"But I've promised him that we should go together to my lawyer to-
morrow, and begin a suit against the proprietors of the 'Clarion.'"

"Do nothing of the kind. Get rid of Grant's assistance in this
matter; and see the 'Clarion' proprietor yourself. What sort of a
man is he? Can you invite him to your house?"

"I have never seen him; I believe he lives at San Jose. He is a
wealthy man and a large land owner there. You understand that
after the first article appeared in his paper, and I knew that he
had employed your brother--although Grant says that he had nothing
to do with it and left Fletcher on account of it--I could have no
intercourse with him. Even if I invited him he would not come."

"He MUST come. Leave it to ME." She stopped and resumed her
former impassive manner. "I had something to say to you too,
father. Mr. Shipley proposed to me the day we went to San Mateo."

Her father's eyes lit with an eager sparkle. "Well," he said
quickly.

"I reminded him that I had known him only a few weeks, and that I
wanted time to consider."

"Consider! Why, Clemmy, he's one of the oldest Boston families,
rich from his father and grandfather--rich when I was a shopkeeper
and your mother"--

"I thought you liked Grant?" she said quietly.

"Yes, but if YOU have no choice nor feeling in the matter, why
Shipley is far the better man. And if any of the scandal should
come to his ears"--

"So much the better that the hesitation should come from me. But
if you think it better, I can sit down here and write to him at
once declining the offer." She moved towards the desk.

"No! No! I did not mean that," said Harcourt quickly. "I only
thought that if he did hear anything it might be said that he had
backed out."

"His sister knows of his offer, and though she don't like it nor
me, she will not deny the fact. By the way, you remember when she
was lost that day on the road to San Mateo?"

"Yes."

"Well, she was with your son, John Milton, all the time, and they
lunched together at Crystal Spring. It came out quite accidentally
through the hotel-keeper."

Harcourt's brow darkened. "Did she know him before?"

"I can't say; but she does now."

Harcourt's face was heavy with distrust. "Taking Shipley's offer
and these scandals into consideration, I don't like the look of
this, Clementina."

"I do," said the girl simply.

Harcourt gazed at her keenly and with the shadow of distrust still
upon him. It seemed to be quite impossible, even with what he knew
of her calmly cold nature, that she should be equally uninfluenced
by Grant or Shipley. Had she some steadfast, lofty ideal, or
perhaps some already absorbing passion of which he knew nothing?
She was not a girl to betray it--they would only know it when it
was too late. Could it be possible that there was still something
between her and 'Lige that he knew nothing of? The thought struck
a chill to his breast. She was walking towards the door, when he
recalled himself with an effort.

"If you think it advisable to see Fletcher, you might run down to
San Jose for a day or two with your mother, and call on the Ramirez.
They may know him or somebody who does. Of course if YOU meet him
and casually invite him it would be different."

"It's a good idea," she said quickly. "I'll do it, and speak to
mother now."

He was struck by the change in her face and voice; they had both
nervously lightened, as oddly and distinctly as they had before
seemed to grow suddenly harsh and aggressive. She passed out of
the room with girlish brusqueness, leaving him alone with a new and
vague fear in his consciousness.

A few hours later Clementina was standing before the window of the
drawing-room that overlooked the outskirts of the town. The
moonlight was flooding the vast bluish Tasajara levels with a faint
lustre, as if the waters of the creek had once more returned to
them. In the shadow of the curtain beside her Grant was facing her
with anxious eyes.

"Then I must take this as your final answer, Clementina?"

"You must. And had I known of these calumnies before, had you been
frank with me even the day we went to San Mateo, my answer would
have been as final then, and you might have been spared any further
suspense. I am not blaming you, Mr. Grant; I am willing to believe
that you thought it best to conceal this from me,--even at that
time when you had just pledged yourself to find out its truth or
falsehood,--yet my answer would have been the same. So long as
this stain rests on my father's name I shall never allow that name
to be coupled with yours in marriage or engagement; nor will my
pride or yours allow us to carry on a simple friendship after this.
I thank you for your offer of assistance, but I cannot even accept
that which might to others seem to allow some contingent claim. I
would rather believe that when you proposed this inquiry and my
father permitted it, you both knew that it put an end to any other
relations between us."

"But, Clementina, you are wrong, believe me! Say that I have been
foolish, indiscreet, mad,--still the few who knew that I made these
inquiries on your father's behalf know nothing of my hopes of YOU!"

"But I do, and that is enough for me."

Even in the hopeless preoccupation of his passion he suddenly
looked at her with something of his old critical scrutiny. But she
stood there calm, concentrated, self-possessed and upright. Yes!
it was possible that the pride of this Southwestern shopkeepers
daughter was greater than his own.

"Then you banish me, Clementina?"

"It is we whom YOU have banished."

"Good-night."

"Good-by."

He bent for an instant over her cold hand, and then passed out into
the hall. She remained listening until the front door closed
behind him. Then she ran swiftly through the hall and up the
staircase, with an alacrity that seemed impossible to the stately
goddess of a moment before. When she had reached her bedroom and
closed the door, so exuberant still and so uncontrollable was her
levity and action, that without going round the bed which stood
before her in the centre of the room, she placed her two hands upon
it and lightly vaulted sideways across it to reach the window.
There she watched the figure of Grant crossing the moonlit square.
Then turning back into the half-lit room, she ran to the small
dressing-glass placed at an angle on a toilet table against the
wall. With her palms grasping her knees she stooped down suddenly
and contemplated the mirror. It showed what no one but Clementina
had ever seen,--and she herself only at rare intervals,--the
laughing eyes and soul of a self-satisfied, material-minded,
ordinary country-girl!

CHAPTER X.

But Mr. Lawrence Grant's character in certain circumstances would
seem to have as startling and inexplicable contradictions as
Clementina Harcourt's, and three days later he halted his horse at
the entrance of Los Gatos Rancho. The Home of the Cats--so called
from the catamounts which infested the locality--which had for over
a century lazily basked before one of the hottest canyons in the
Coast Range, had lately been stirred into some activity by the
American, Don Diego Fletcher, who had bought it, put up a saw-mill,
and deforested the canyon. Still there remained enough suggestion
of a feline haunt about it to make Grant feel as if he had tracked
hither some stealthy enemy, in spite of the peaceful intimation
conveyed by the sign on a rough boarded shed at the wayside, that
the "Los Gatos Land and Lumber Company" held their office there.

A cigarette-smoking peon lounged before the door. Yes; Don Diego
was there, but as he had arrived from Santa Clara only last night
and was going to Colonel Ramirez that afternoon, he was engaged.
Unless the business was important--but the cool, determined manner
of Grant, even more than his words, signified that it WAS
important, and the servant led the way to Don Diego's presence.

There certainly was nothing in the appearance of this sylvan
proprietor and newspaper capitalist to justify Grant's suspicion of
a surreptitious foe. A handsome man scarcely older than himself,
in spite of a wavy mass of perfectly white hair which contrasted
singularly with his brown mustache and dark sunburned face. So
disguising was the effect of these contradictions, that he not only
looked unlike anybody else, but even his nationality seemed to be a
matter of doubt. Only his eyes, light blue and intelligent, which
had a singular expression of gentleness and worry, appeared
individual to the man. His manner was cultivated and easy. He
motioned his visitor courteously to a chair.

"I was referred to you," said Grant, almost abruptly, "as the
person responsible for a series of slanderous attacks against Mr.
Daniel Harcourt in the 'Clarion,' of which paper I believe you are
the proprietor. I was told that you declined to give the authority
for your action, unless you were forced to by legal proceedings."

Fletcher's sensitive blue eyes rested upon Grant's with an
expression of constrained pain and pity. "I heard of your
inquiries, Mr. Grant; you were making them on behalf of this Mr.
Harcourt or Harkutt"--he made the distinction with intentional
deliberation--"with a view, I believe, to some arbitration. The
case was stated to you fairly, I think; I believe I have nothing to
add to it."

"That was your answer to the ambassador of Mr. Harcourt," said
Grant, coldly, "and as such I delivered it to him; but I am here
to-day to speak on my own account."

What could be seen of Mr. Fletcher's lips appeared to curl in an
odd smile. "Indeed, I thought it was--or would be--all in the
family."

Grant's face grew more stern, and his gray eyes glittered. "You'll
find my status in this matter so far independent that I don't
propose, like Mr. Harcourt, either to begin a suit or to rest
quietly under the calumny. Briefly, Mr. Fletcher, as you or your
informant knows, I was the surveyor who revealed to Mr. Harcourt
the value of the land to which he claimed a title from your man,
this Elijah or 'Lige Curtis as you call him,"--he could not resist
this imitation of his adversary's supercilious affectation of
precise nomenclature,--"and it was upon my representation of its
value as an investment that he began the improvements which have
made him wealthy. If this title was fraudulently obtained, all the
facts pertaining to it are sufficiently related to connect me with
the conspiracy."

"Are you not a little hasty in your presumption, Mr. Grant?" said
Fletcher, with unfeigned surprise.

"That is for ME to judge, Mr. Fletcher," returned Grant, haughtily.

"But the name of Professor Grant is known to all California as
beyond the breath of calumny or suspicion."

"It is because of that fact that I propose to keep it so."

"And may I ask in what way you wish me to assist you in so doing?"

"By promptly and publicly retracting in the 'Clarion' every word of
this slander against Harcourt."

Fletcher looked steadfastly at the speaker. "And if I decline?"

"I think you have been long enough in California, Mr. Fletcher, to
know the alternative expected of a gentleman," said Grant, coldly.

Mr. Fletcher kept his gentle blue eyes--in which surprise still
overbalanced their expression of pained concern--on Grant's face.

"But is not this more in the style of Colonel Starbottle than
Professor Grant?" he asked, with a faint smile.

Grant rose instantly with a white face. "You will have a better
opportunity of judging," he said, "when Colonel Starbottle has the
honor of waiting upon you from me. Meantime, I thank you for
reminding me of the indiscretion into which my folly, in still
believing that this thing could be settled amicably, has led me."

He bowed coldly and withdrew. Nevertheless, as he mounted his
horse and rode away, he felt his cheeks burning. Yet he had acted
upon calm consideration; he knew that to the ordinary Californian
experience there was nothing quixotic nor exaggerated in the
attitude he had taken. Men had quarreled and fought on less
grounds; he had even half convinced himself that he HAD been
insulted, and that his own professional reputation demanded the
withdrawal of the attack on Harcourt on purely business grounds;
but he was not satisfied of the personal responsibility of Fletcher
nor of his gratuitous malignity. Nor did the man look like a tool
in the hands of some unscrupulous and hidden enemy. However, he
had played his card. If he succeeded only in provoking a duel with
Fletcher, he at least would divert the public attention from
Harcourt to himself. He knew that his superior position would
throw the lesser victim in the background. He would make the
sacrifice; that was his duty as a gentleman, even if SHE would not
care to accept it as an earnest of his unselfish love!

He had reached the point where the mountain track entered the Santa
Clara turnpike when his attention was attracted by a handsome but
old-fashioned carriage drawn by four white mules, which passed down
the road before him and turned suddenly off into a private road.
But it was not this picturesque gala equipage of some local Spanish
grandee that brought a thrill to his nerves and a flash to his eye;
it was the unmistakable, tall, elegant figure and handsome profile
of Clementina, reclining in light gauzy wraps against the back
seat! It was no fanciful resemblance, the outcome of his reverie,--
there never was any one like her!--it WAS she herself! But what
was she doing here?

A vaquero cantered from the cross road where the dust of the
vehicle still hung. Grant hailed him. Ah! it was a fine carroza
de cuatro mulas that he had just passed! Si, Senor, truly; it was
of Don Jose Ramirez, who lived just under the hill. It was
bringing company to the casa.

Ramirez! That was where Fletcher was going! Had Clementina known
that he was one of Fletcher's friends? Might she not be exposed to
unpleasantness, marked coolness, or even insult in that unexpected
meeting? Ought she not to be warned or prepared for it? She had
banished Grant from her presence until this stain was removed from
her father's name, but could she blame him for trying to save her
from contact with her father's slanderer? No! He turned his horse
abruptly into the cross road and spurred forward in the direction
of the casa.

It was quite visible now--a low-walled, quadrangular mass of
whitewashed adobe lying like a drift on the green hillside. The
carriage and four had far preceded him, and was already half up the
winding road towards the house. Later he saw them reach the
courtyard and disappear within. He would be quite in time to speak
with her before she retired to change her dress. He would simply
say that while making a professional visit to Los Gatos Land
Company office he had become aware of Fletcher's connection with
it, and accidentally of his intended visit to Ramirez. His chance
meeting with the carriage on the highway had determined his course.

As he rode into the courtyard he observed that it was also approached
by another road, evidently nearer Los Gatos, and probably the older
and shorter communication between the two ranchos. The fact was
significantly demonstrated a moment later. He had given his horse
to a servant, sent in his card to Clementina, and had dropped
listlessly on one of the benches of the gallery surrounding the
patio, when a horseman rode briskly into the opposite gateway, and
dismounted with a familiar air. A waiting peon who recognized him
informed him that the Dona was engaged with a visitor, but that they
were both returning to the gallery for chocolate in a moment. The
stranger was the man he had left only an hour before--Don Diego
Fletcher!

In an instant the idiotic fatuity of his position struck him fully.
His only excuse for following Clementina had been to warn her of
the coming of this man who had just entered, and who would now meet
her as quickly as himself. For a brief moment the idea of quietly
slipping out to the corral, mounting his horse again, and flying
from the rancho, crossed his mind; but the thought that he would be
running away from the man he had just challenged, and perhaps some
new hostility that had sprung up in his heart against him,
compelled him to remain. The eyes of both men met; Fletcher's in
half-wondering annoyance, Grant's in ill-concealed antagonism.
What they would have said is not known, for at that moment the
voices of Clementina and Mrs. Ramirez were heard in the passage,
and they both entered the gallery. The two men were standing
together; it was impossible to see one without the other.

And yet Grant, whose eyes were instantly directed to Clementina,
thought that she had noted neither. She remained for an instant
standing in the doorway in the same self-possessed, coldly graceful
pose he remembered she had taken on the platform at Tasajara. Her
eyelids were slightly downcast, as if she had been arrested by some
sudden thought or some shy maiden sensitiveness; in her hesitation
Mrs. Ramirez passed impatiently before her.

"Mother of God!" said that lively lady, regarding the two
speechless men, "is it an indiscretion we are making here--or are
you dumb? You, Don Diego, are loud enough when you and Don Jose
are together; at least introduce your friend."

Grant quickly recovered himself. "I am afraid," he said, coming
forward, "unless Miss Harcourt does, that I am a mere trespasser in
your house, Senora. I saw her pass in your carriage a few moments
ago, and having a message for her I ventured to follow her here."

"It is Mr. Grant, a friend of my father's," said Clementina,
smiling with equanimity, as if just awakening from a momentary
abstraction, yet apparently unconscious of Grant's imploring eyes;
"but the other gentleman I have not the pleasure of knowing."

"Ah! Don Diego Fletcher, a countryman of yours; and yet I think he
knows you not."

Clementina's face betrayed no indication of the presence of her
father's foe, and yet Grant knew that she must have recognized his
name, as she looked towards Fletcher with perfect self-possession.
He was too much engaged in watching her to take note of Fletcher's
manifest disturbance, or the evident effort with which he at last
bowed to her. That this unexpected double meeting with the
daughter of the man he had wronged, and the man who had espoused
the quarrel, should be confounding to him appeared only natural.
But he was unprepared to understand the feverish alacrity with
which he accepted Dona Maria's invitation to chocolate, or the
equally animated way in which Clementina threw herself into her
hostess's Spanish levity. He knew it was an awkward situation,
that must be surmounted without a scene; he was quite prepared in
the presence of Clementina to be civil to Fletcher; but it was odd
that in this feverish exchange of courtesies and compliments HE,
Grant, should feel the greater awkwardness and be the most ill at
ease. He sat down and took his part in the conversation; he let it
transpire for Clementina's benefit that he had been to Los Gatos
only on business, yet there was no opportunity for even a
significant glance, and he had the added embarrassment of seeing
that she exhibited no surprise nor seemed to attach the least
importance to his inopportune visit. In a miserable indecision he
allowed himself to be carried away by the high-flown hospitality of
his Spanish hostess, and consented to stay to an early dinner. It
was part of the infelicity of circumstance that the voluble Dona
Maria--electing him as the distinguished stranger above the
resident Fletcher--monopolized him and attached him to her side.
She would do the honors of her house; she must show him the ruins
of the old Mission beside the corral; Don Diego and Clementina
would join them presently in the garden. He cast a despairing
glance at the placidly smiling Clementina, who was apparently
equally indifferent to the evident constraint and assumed ease of
the man beside her, and turned away with Mrs. Ramirez.

A silence fell upon the gallery so deep that the receding voices
and footsteps of Grant and his hostess in the long passage were
distinctly heard until they reached the end. Then Fletcher arose
with an inarticulate exclamation. Clementina instantly put her
finger to her lips, glanced around the gallery, extended her hand
to him, and saying "Come," half-led, half-dragged him into the
passage. To the right she turned and pushed open the door of a
small room that seemed a combination of boudoir and oratory, lit by
a French window opening to the garden, and flanked by a large black
and white crucifix with a prie Dieu beneath it. Closing the door
behind them she turned and faced her companion. But it was no
longer the face of the woman who had been sitting in the gallery;
it was the face that had looked back at her from the mirror at
Tasajara the night that Grant had left her--eager, flushed,
material with commonplace excitement!

"'Lige Curtis," she said.

"Yes," he answered passionately, "Lige Curtis, whom you thought
dead! 'Lige Curtis, whom you once pitied, condoled with and
despised! 'Lige Curtis, whose lands and property have enriched
you! 'Lige Curtis, who would have shared it with you freely at the
time, but whom your father juggled and defrauded of it! 'Lige
Curtis, branded by him as a drunken outcast and suicide! 'Lige
Curtis"--

"Hush!" She clapped her little hand over his mouth with a quick
but awkward schoolgirl gesture, inconceivable to any who had known
her usual languid elegance of motion, and held it there. He
struggled angrily, impatiently, reproachfully, and then, with a
sudden characteristic weakness that seemed as much of a revelation
as her once hoydenish manner, kissed it, when she let it drop.
Then placing both her hands still girlishly on her slim waist and
curtseying grotesquely before him, she said: "'Lige Curtis! Oh,
yes! 'Lige Curtis, who swore to do everything for me! 'Lige
Curtis, who promised to give up liquor for me,--who was to leave
Tasajara for me! 'Lige Curtis, who was to reform, and keep his
land as a nest-egg for us both in the future, and then who sold it--
and himself--and me--to dad for a glass of whiskey! 'Lige Curtis,
who disappeared, and then let us think he was dead, only that he
might attack us out of the ambush of his grave!"

"Yes, but think what I have suffered all these years; not for the
cursed land--you know I never cared for that--but for YOU,--you,
Clementina,--YOU rich, admired by every one; idolized, held far
above me,--ME, the forgotten outcast, the wretched suicide--and yet
the man to whom you had once plighted your troth. Which of those
greedy fortune-hunters whom my money--my life-blood as you might
have thought it was--attracted to you, did you care to tell that
you had ever slipped out of the little garden gate at Sidon to meet
that outcast! Do you wonder that as the years passed and YOU were
happy, I did not choose to be so forgotten? Do you wonder that
when YOU shut the door on the past I managed to open it again--if
only a little way--that its light might startle you?"

Yet she did not seem startled or disturbed, and remained only
looking at him critically.

"You say that you have suffered," she replied with a smile. "You
don't look it! Your hair is white, but it is becoming to you, and
you are a handsomer man, 'Lige Curtis, than you were when I first
met you; you are finer," she went on, still regarding him,
"stronger and healthier than you were five years ago; you are rich
and prosperous, you have everything to make you happy, but"--here
she laughed a little, held out both her hands, taking his and
holding his arms apart in a rustic, homely fashion--"but you are
still the same old 'Lige Curtis! It was like you to go off and
hide yourself in that idiotic way; it was like you to let the
property slide in that stupid, unselfish fashion; it was like you
to get real mad, and say all those mean, silly things to dad, that
didn't hurt him--in your regular looney style; for rich or poor,
drunk or sober, ragged or elegant, plain or handsome,--you're
always the same 'Lige Curtis!"

In proportion as that material, practical, rustic self--which
nobody but 'Lige Curtis had ever seen--came back to her, so in
proportion the irresolute, wavering, weak and emotional vagabond of
Sidon came out to meet it. He looked at her with a vague smile;
his five years of childish resentment, albeit carried on the
shoulders of a man mentally and morally her superior, melted away.
He drew her towards him, yet at the same moment a quick suspicion
returned.

"Well, and what are you doing here? Has this man who has followed
you any right, any claim upon you?"

"None but what you in your folly have forced upon him! You have
made him father's ally. I don't know why he came here. I only
know why I did--to find YOU!"

"You suspected then?"

"I KNEW! Hush!"

The returning voices of Grant and of Mrs. Ramirez were heard in the
courtyard. Clementina made a warning yet girlishly mirthful
gesture, again caught his hand, drew him quickly to the French
window, and slipped through it with him into the garden, where they
were quickly lost in the shadows of a ceanothus hedge.

"They have probably met Don Jose in the orchard, and as he and Don
Diego have business together, Dona Clementina has without doubt
gone to her room and left them. For you are not very entertaining
to the ladies to-day,--you two caballeros! You have much politics
together, eh?--or you have discussed and disagreed, eh? I will
look for the Senorita, and let you go, Don Distraido!"

It is to be feared that Grant's apologies and attempts to detain
her were equally feeble,--as it seemed to him that this was the
only chance he might have of seeing Clementina except in company
with Fletcher. As Mrs. Ramirez left he lit a cigarette and
listlessly walked up and down the gallery. But Clementina did not
come, neither did his hostess return. A subdued step in the
passage raised his hopes,--it was only the grizzled major domo, to
show him his room that he might prepare for dinner.

He followed mechanically down the long passage to a second
corridor. There was a chance that he might meet Clementina, but he
reached his room without encountering any one. It was a large
vaulted apartment with a single window, a deep embrasure in the
thick wall that seemed to focus like a telescope some forgotten,
sequestered part of the leafy garden. While washing his hands,
gazing absently at the green vignette framed by the dark opening,
his attention was drawn to a movement of the foliage, stirred
apparently by the rapid passage of two half-hidden figures. The
quick flash of a feminine skirt seemed to indicate the coy flight
of some romping maid of the casa, and the pursuit and struggle of
her vaquero swain. To a despairing lover even the spectacle of
innocent, pastoral happiness in others is not apt to be soothing,
and Grant was turning impatiently away when he suddenly stopped
with a rigid face and quickly approached the window. In her
struggles with the unseen Corydon, the clustering leaves seemed to
have yielded at the same moment with the coy Chloris, and parting--
disclosed a stolen kiss! Grant's hand lay like ice against the
wall. For, disengaging Fletcher's arm from her waist and freeing
her skirt from the foliage, it was the calm, passionless Clementina
herself who stepped out, and moved pensively towards the casa.

CHAPTER XI.

"Readers of the 'Clarion' will have noticed that allusion has been
frequently made in these columns to certain rumors concerning the
early history of Tasajara which were supposed to affect the pioneer
record of Daniel Harcourt. It was deemed by the conductors of this
journal to be only consistent with the fearless and independent
duty undertaken by the 'Clarion' that these rumors should be fully
chronicled as part of the information required by the readers of a
first-class newspaper, unbiased by any consideration of the social
position of the parties, but simply as a matter of news. For this
the 'Clarion' does not deem it necessary to utter a word of
apology. But for that editorial comment or attitude which the
proprietors felt was justified by the reliable sources of their
information they now consider it only due in honor to themselves,
their readers, and Mr. Harcourt to fully and freely apologize. A
patient and laborious investigation enables them to state that the
alleged facts published by the 'Clarion' and copied by other
journals are utterly unsupported by testimony, and the charges--
although more or less vague--which were based upon them are equally
untenable. We are now satisfied that one 'Elijah Curtis,' a former
pioneer of Tasajara who disappeared five years ago, and was
supposed to be drowned, has not only made no claim to the Tasajara
property, as alleged, but has given no sign of his equally alleged
resuscitation and present existence, and that on the minutest
investigation there appears nothing either in his disappearance, or
the transfer of his property to Daniel Harcourt, that could in any
way disturb the uncontested title to Tasajara or the unimpeachable
character of its present owner. The whole story now seems to have
been the outcome of one of those stupid rural hoaxes too common in
California."

"Well," said Mrs. Ashwood, laying aside the 'Clarion' with a
skeptical shrug of her pretty shoulders, as she glanced up at her
brother; "I suppose this means that you are going to propose again
to the young lady?"

"I have," said Jack Shipley, "that's the worst of it--and got my
answer before this came out."

"Jack!" said Mrs. Ashwood, thoroughly surprised.

"Yes! You see, Conny, as I told you three weeks ago, she said she
wanted time to consider,--that she scarcely knew me, and all that!
Well, I thought it wasn't exactly a gentleman's business to seem to
stand off after that last attack on her father, and so, last week,
I went down to San Jose, where she was staying, and begged her not
to keep me in suspense. And, by Jove! she froze me with a look,
and said that with these aspersions on her father's character, she
preferred not to be under obligations to any one."

"And you believed her?"

"Oh, hang it all! Look here, Conny,--I wish you'd just try for
once to find out some good in that family, besides what that
sentimental young widower John Milton may have. You seem to think
because they've quarreled with HIM there isn't a virtue left among
them."

Far from seeming to offer any suggestion of feminine retaliation,
Mrs. Ashwood smiled sweetly. "My dear Jack, I have no desire to
keep you from trying your luck again with Miss Clementina, if
that's what you mean, and indeed I shouldn't be surprised if a
family who felt a mesalliance as sensitively as the Harcourts felt
that affair of their son's, would be as keenly alive to the
advantages of a good match for their daughter. As to young Mr.
Harcourt, he never talked to me of the vices of his family, nor has
he lately troubled me much with the presence of his own virtues.
I haven't heard from him since we came here."

"I suppose he is satisfied with the government berth you got for
him," returned her brother dryly.

"He was very grateful to Senator Flynn, who appreciates his
talents, but who offered it to him as a mere question of fitness,"
replied Mrs. Ashwood with great precision of statement. "But you
don't seem to know he declined it on account of his other work."

"Preferred his old Bohemian ways, eh? You can't change those
fellows, Conny. They can't get over the fascinations of
vagabondage. Sorry your lady-patroness scheme didn't work. Pity
you couldn't have promoted him in the line of his profession, as
the Grand Duchess of Girolstein did Fritz."

"For Heaven's sake, Jack, go to Clementina! You may not be
successful, but there at least the perfect gentlemanliness and
good taste of your illustrations will not be thrown away."

"I think of going to San Francisco tomorrow, anyway," returned Jack
with affected carelessness. "I'm getting rather bored with this
wild seaside watering place and its glitter of ocean and hopeless
background of mountain. It's nothing to me that 'there's no land
nearer than Japan' out there. It may be very healthful to the
tissues, but it's weariness to the spirit, and I don't see why we
can't wait at San Francisco till the rains send us further south,
as well as here."

He had walked to the balcony of their sitting-room in the little
seaside hotel where this conversation took place, and gazed
discontentedly over the curving bay and sandy shore before him.
After a slight pause Mrs. Ashwood stepped out beside him.

"Very likely I may go with you," she said, with a perceptible tone
of weariness. "We will see after the post arrives."

"By the way, there is a little package for you in my room, that
came this morning. I brought it up, but forgot to give it to you.
You'll find it on my table."

Mrs. Ashwood abstractedly turned away and entered her brother's
room from the same balcony. The forgotten parcel, which looked
like a roll of manuscript, was lying on his dressing-table. She
gazed attentively at the handwriting on the wrapper and then gave a
quick glance around her. A sudden and subtle change came over her.
She neither flushed nor paled, nor did the delicate lines of
expression in her face quiver or change. But as she held the
parcel in her hand her whole being seemed to undergo some exquisite
suffusion. As the medicines which the Arabian physician had
concealed in the hollow handle of the mallet permeated the languid
royal blood of Persia, so some volatile balm of youth seemed to
flow in upon her with the contact of that strange missive and
transform her weary spirit.

"Jack!" she called, in a high clear voice. But Jack had already
gone from the balcony when she reached it with an elastic step and
a quick youthful swirl and rustling of her skirt. He was lighting
his cigar in the garden.

"Jack," she said, leaning half over the railing, "come back here in
an hour and we'll talk over that matter of yours again."

Jack looked up eagerly and as if he might even come up then, but
she added quickly, "In about an hour--I must think it over," and
withdrew.

She re-entered the sitting-room, shut the door carefully and locked
it, half pulled down the blind, walking once or twice around the
table on which the parcel lay, with one eye on it like a graceful
cat. Then she suddenly sat down, took it up with a grave practical
face, examined the postmark curiously, and opened it with severe
deliberation. It contained a manuscript and a letter of four
closely written pages. She glanced at the manuscript with bright
approving eyes, ran her fingers through its leaves and then laid it
carefully and somewhat ostentatiously on the table beside her.
Then, still holding the letter in her hand, she rose and glanced
out of the window at her bored brother lounging towards the beach
and at the heaving billows beyond, and returned to her seat. This
apparently important preliminary concluded, she began to read.

There were, as already stated, four blessed pages of it! All
vital, earnest, palpitating with youthful energy, preposterous in
premises, precipitate in conclusions,--yet irresistible and
convincing to every woman in their illogical sincerity. There was
not a word of love in it, yet every page breathed a wholesome
adoration; there was not an epithet or expression that a greater
prude than Mrs. Ashwood would have objected to, yet every sentence
seemed to end in a caress. There was not a line of poetry in it,
and scarcely a figure or simile, and yet it was poetical. Boyishly
egotistic as it was in attitude, it seemed to be written less OF
himself than TO her; in its delicate because unconscious flattery,
it made her at once the provocation and excuse. And yet so potent
was its individuality that it required no signature. No one but
John Milton Harcourt could have written it. His personality stood
out of it so strongly that once or twice Mrs. Ashwood almost
unconsciously put up her little hand before her face with a half
mischievous, half-deprecating smile, as if the big honest eyes of
its writer were upon her.

It began by an elaborate apology for declining the appointment
offered him by one of her friends, which he was bold enough to
think had been prompted by her kind heart. That was like her, but
yet what she might do to any one; and he preferred to think of her
as the sweet and gentle lady who had recognized his merit without
knowing him, rather than the powerful and gracious benefactress who
wanted to reward him when she did know him. The crown that she had
all unconsciously placed upon his head that afternoon at the little
hotel at Crystal Spring was more to him than the Senator's
appointment; perhaps he was selfish, but he could not bear that she
who had given so much should believe that he could accept a lesser
gift. All this and much more! Some of it he had wanted to say to
her in San Francisco at times when they had met, but he could not
find the words. But she had given him the courage to go on and do
the only thing he was fit for, and he had resolved to stick to
that, and perhaps do something once more that might make him hear
again her voice as he had heard it that day, and again see the
light that had shone in her eyes as she sat there and read. And
this was why he was sending her a manuscript. She might have
forgotten that she had told him a strange story of her cousin who
had disappeared--which she thought he might at some time work up.
Here it was. Perhaps she might not recognize it again, in the way
he had written it here; perhaps she did not really mean it when she
had given him permission to use it, but he remembered her truthful
eyes and believed her--and in any event it was hers to do with what
she liked. It had been a great pleasure for him to write it and
think that she would see it; it was like seeing her himself--that
was in HIS BETTER SELF--more worthy the companionship of a
beautiful and noble woman than the poor young man she would have
helped. This was why he had not called the week before she went
away. But for all that, she had made his life less lonely, and he
should be ever grateful to her. He could never forget how she
unconsciously sympathized with him that day over the loss that had
blighted his life forever,--yet even then he did not know that she,
herself, had passed through the same suffering. But just here the
stricken widow of thirty, after a vain attempt to keep up the
knitted gravity of her eyebrows, bowed her dimpling face over the
letter of the blighted widower of twenty, and laughed so long and
silently that the tears stood out like dew on her light-brown
eyelashes.

But she became presently severe again, and finished her reading of
the letter gravely. Then she folded it carefully, deposited it in
a box on her table, which she locked. After a few minutes,
however, she unlocked the box again and transferred the letter to
her pocket. The serenity of her features did not relax again,
although her previous pretty prepossession of youthful spirit was
still indicated in her movements. Going into her bedroom, she
reappeared in a few minutes with a light cloak thrown over her
shoulders and a white-trimmed broad-brimmed hat. Then she rolled
up the manuscript in a paper, and called her French maid. As she
stood there awaiting her with the roll in her hand, she might have
been some young girl on her way to her music lesson.

"If my brother returns before I do, tell him to wait."

"Madame is going"--

"Out," said Mrs. Ashwood blithely, and tripped downstairs.

She made her way directly to the shore where she remembered there
was a group of rocks affording a shelter from the northwest trade
winds. It was reached at low water by a narrow ridge of sand, and
here she had often basked in the sun with her book. It was here
that she now unrolled John Milton's manuscript and read.

It was the story she had told him, but interpreted by his poetry
and adorned by his fancy until the facts as she remembered them
seemed to be no longer hers, or indeed truths at all. She had
always believed her cousin's unhappy temperament to have been the
result of a moral and physical idiosyncrasy,--she found it here to
be the effect of a lifelong and hopeless passion for herself! The
ingenious John Milton had given a poet's precocity to the youth
whom she had only known as a suspicious, moody boy, had idealized
him as a sensitive but songless Byron, had given him the added
infirmity of pulmonary weakness, and a handkerchief that in moments
of great excitement, after having been hurriedly pressed to his
pale lips, was withdrawn "with a crimson stain." Opposed to this
interesting figure--the more striking to her as she had been
hitherto haunted by the impression that her cousin during his
boyhood had been subject to facial eruption and boils--was her own
equally idealized self. Cruelly kind to her cousin and gentle with
his weaknesses while calmly ignoring their cause, leading him
unconsciously step by step in his fatal passion, he only became
aware by accident that she nourished an ideal hero in the person of
a hard, proud, middle-aged practical man of the world,--her future
husband! At this picture of the late Mr. Ashwood, who had really
been an indistinctive social bon vivant, his amiable relict grew
somewhat hysterical. The discovery of her real feelings drove the
consumptive cousin into a secret, self-imposed exile on the shores
of the Pacific, where he hoped to find a grave. But the complete
and sudden change of life and scene, the balm of the wild woods and
the wholesome barbarism of nature, wrought a magical change in his
physical health and a philosophical rest in his mind. He married
the daughter of an Indian chief. Years passed, the heroine--a rich
and still young and beautiful widow--unwittingly sought the same
medicinal solitude. Here in the depth of the forest she encountered
her former playmate; the passion which he had fondly supposed was
dead revived in her presence, and for the first time she learned
from his bearded lips the secret of his passion. Alas! not SHE
alone! The contiguous forest could not be bolted out, and the
Indian wife heard all. Recognizing the situation with aboriginal
directness of purpose, she committed suicide in the fond belief that
it would reunite the survivors. But in vain; the cousins parted on
the spot to meet no more.

Even Mrs. Ashwood's predilection for the youthful writer could not
overlook the fact that the denouement was by no means novel nor the
situation human, but yet it was here that she was most interested
and fascinated. The description of the forest was a description
of the wood where she had first met Harcourt; the charm of it
returned, until she almost seemed to again inhale its balsamic
freshness in the pages before her. Now, as then, her youth came
back with the same longing and regret. But more bewildering than
all, it was herself that moved there, painted with the loving hand
of the narrator. For the first time she experienced the delicious
flattery of seeing herself as only a lover could see her. The
smallest detail of her costume was suggested with an accuracy that
pleasantly thrilled her feminine sense. The grace of her figure
slowly moving through the shadow, the curves of her arm and the
delicacy of her hand that held the bridle rein, the gentle glow of
her softly rounded cheek, the sweet mystery of her veiled eyes and
forehead, and the escaping gold of her lovely hair beneath her hat
were all in turn masterfully touched or tenderly suggested. And
when to this was added the faint perfume of her nearer presence--
the scent she always used--the delicate revelations of her
withdrawn gauntlet, the bracelet clasping her white wrist, and at
last the thrilling contact of her soft hand on his arm,--she put
down the manuscript and blushed like a very girl. Then she
started.

A shout!--HIS voice surely!--and the sound of oars in their
rowlocks.

An instant revulsion of feeling overtook her. With a quick
movement she instantly hid the manuscript beneath her cloak and
stood up erect and indignant. Not twenty yards away, apparently
advancing from the opposite shore of the bay, was a boat. It
contained only John Milton, resting on his oars and scanning the
group of rocks anxiously. His face, which was quite strained with
anxiety, suddenly flushed when he saw her, and then recognizing the
unmistakable significance of her look and attitude, paled once
more. He bent over his oars again; a few strokes brought him close
to the rock.

"I beg your pardon," he said hesitatingly, as he turned towards her
and laid aside his oars, "but--I thought--you were--in danger."

She glanced quickly round her. She had forgotten the tide! The
ledge between her and the shore was already a foot under brown sea-
water. Yet if she had not thought that it would look ridiculous,
she would have leaped down even then and waded ashore.

"It's nothing," she said coldly, with the air of one to whom the
situation was an everyday occurrence; "it's only a few steps and a
slight wetting--and my brother would have been here in a moment
more."

John Milton's frank eyes made no secret of his mortification. "I
ought not to have disturbed you, I know," he said quickly, "I had
no right. But I was on the other shore opposite and I saw you come
down here--that is"--he blushed prodigiously--"I thought it MIGHT
BE you--and I ventured--I mean--won't you let me row you ashore?"

There seemed to be no reasonable excuse for refusing. She slipped
quickly into the boat without waiting for his helping hand,
avoiding that contact which only a moment ago she was trying to
recall.

A few strokes brought them ashore. He continued his explanation
with the hopeless frankness and persistency of youth and
inexperience. "I only came here the day before yesterday. I would
not have come, but Mr. Fletcher, who has a cottage on the other
shore, sent for me to offer me my old place on the 'Clarion.' I
had no idea of intruding upon your privacy by calling here without
permission."

Mrs. Ashwood had resumed her conventional courtesy without however
losing her feminine desire to make her companion pay for the
agitation he had caused her. "We would have been always pleased to
see you," she said vaguely, "and I hope, as you are here now, you
will come with me to the hotel. My brother"--

But he still retained his hold of the boat-rope without moving, and
continued, "I saw you yesterday, through the telescope, sitting in
your balcony; and later at night I think it was your shadow I saw
near the blue shaded lamp in the sitting-room by the window,--I
don't mean the RED LAMP that you have in your own room. I watched
you until you put out the blue lamp and lit the red one. I tell
you this--because--because--I thought you might be reading a
manuscript I sent you. At least," he smiled faintly, "I LIKED to
think it so."

In her present mood this struck her only as persistent and somewhat
egotistical. But she felt herself now on ground where she could
deal firmly with him.

"Oh, yes," she said gravely. "I got it and thank you very much for
it. I intended to write to you."

"Don't," he said, looking at her fixedly. "I can see you don't
like it."

"On the contrary," she said promptly, "I think it beautifully
written, and very ingenious in plot and situation. Of course it
isn't the story I told you--I didn't expect that, for I'm not a
genius. The man is not at all like my cousin, you know, and the
woman--well really, to tell the truth, SHE is simply inconceivable!"

"You think so?" he said gravely. He had been gazing abstractedly
at some shining brown seaweed in the water, and when he raised his
eyes to hers they seemed to have caught its color.

"Think so? I'm positive! There's no such a woman; she isn't
HUMAN. But let us walk to the hotel."

"Thank you, but I must go back now."

"But at least let my brother thank you for taking his place--in
rescuing me. It was so thoughtful in you to put off at once when
you saw I was surrounded. I might have been in great danger."

"Please don't make fun of me, Mrs. Ashwood," he said with a faint
return of his boyish smile. "You know there was no danger. I have
only interrupted you in a nap or a reverie--and I can see now that
you evidently came here to be alone."

Holding the manuscript more closely hidden under the folds of her
cloak, she smiled enigmatically. "I think I DID, and it seems that
the tide thought so too, and acted upon it. But you will come up
to the hotel with me, surely?"

"No, I am going back now." There was a sudden firmness about the
young fellow which she had never before noticed. This was
evidently the creature who had married in spite of his family.

"Won't you come back long enough to take your manuscript? I will
point out the part I refer to, and--we will talk it over."

"There is no necessity. I wrote to you that you might keep it; it
is yours; it was written for you and none other. It is quite
enough for me to know that you were good enough to read it. But
will you do one thing more for me? Read it again! If you find
anything in it the second time to change your views--if you find"--

"I will let you know," she said quickly. "I will write to you as I
intended."

"No, I didn't mean that. I meant that if you found the woman less
inconceivable and more human, don't write to me, but put your red
lamp in your window instead of the blue one. I will watch for it
and see it."

"I think I will be able to explain myself much better with simple
pen and ink," she said dryly, " and it will be much more useful to
you."

He lifted his hat gravely, shoved off the boat, leaped into it, and
before she could hold out her hand was twenty feet away. She
turned and ran quickly up the rocks. When she reached the hotel,
she could see the boat already half across the bay.

Entering her sitting-room she found that her brother, tired of
waiting for her, had driven out. Taking the hidden manuscript from
her cloak she tossed it with a slight gesture of impatience on the
table. Then she summoned the landlord.

"Is there a town across the bay?"

"No! the whole mountain-side belongs to Don Diego Fletcher. He
lives away back in the coast range at Los Gatos, but he has a
cottage and mill on the beach."

"Don Diego Fletcher--Fletcher! Is he a Spaniard then?"

"Half and half, I reckon; he's from the lower country, I believe."

"Is he here often?"

"Not much; he has mills at Los Gatos, wheat ranches at Santa Clara,
and owns a newspaper in 'Frisco! But he's here now. There were
lights in his house last night, and his cutter lies off the point."

"Could you get a small package and note to him?"

"Certainly; it is only a row across the bay."

"Thank you."

Without removing her hat and cloak she sat down at the table and
began a letter to Don Diego Fletcher. She begged to inclose to him
a manuscript which she was satisfied, for the interests of its
author, was better in his hands than hers. It had been given to
her by the author, Mr. J. M. Harcourt, whom she understood was
engaged on Mr. Fletcher's paper, the "Clarion." In fact, it had
been written at HER suggestion, and from an incident in real life
of which she was cognizant. She was sorry to say that on account
of some very foolish criticism of her own as to the FACTS, the
talented young author had become so dissatisfied with it as to make
it possible that, if left to himself, this very charming and
beautifully written story would remain unpublished. As an admirer
of Mr. Harcourt's genius, and a friend of his family, she felt that
such an event would be deplorable, and she therefore begged to
leave it to Mr. Fletcher's delicacy and tact to arrange with the
author for its publication. She knew that Mr. Fletcher had only to
read it to be convinced of its remarkable literary merit, and she
again would impress upon him the fact that her playful and
thoughtless criticism--which was personal and confidential--was
only based upon the circumstances that the author had really made a
more beautiful and touching story than the poor facts which she had
furnished seemed to warrant. She had only just learned the
fortunate circumstance that Mr. Fletcher was in the neighborhood of
the hotel where she was staying with her brother.

With the same practical, business-like directness, but perhaps a
certain unbusiness-like haste superadded, she rolled up the
manuscript and dispatched it with the letter.

This done, however, a slight reaction set in, and having taken off
her hat and shawl, she dropped listlessly on a chair by the window,
but as suddenly rose and took a seat in the darker part of the
room. She felt that she had done right, that highest but most
depressing of human convictions! It was entirely for his good.
There was no reason why his best interests should suffer for his
folly. If anybody was to suffer it was she. But what nonsense was
she thinking! She would write to him later when she was a little
cooler,--as she had said. But then he had distinctly told her, and
very rudely too, that he didn't want her to write. Wanted her to
make SIGNALS to him,--the idiot! and probably was even now watching
her with a telescope. It was really too preposterous!

The result was that her brother found her on his return in a
somewhat uncertain mood, and, as a counselor, variable and
conflicting in judgment. If this Clementina, who seemed to have the
family qualities of obstinacy and audacity, really cared for him,
she certainly wouldn't let delicacy stand in the way of letting him
know it--and he was therefore safe to wait a little. A few moments
later, she languidly declared that she was afraid that she was no
counselor in such matters; really she was getting too old to take
any interest in that sort of thing, and she never had been a
matchmaker! By the way now, wasn't it odd that this neighbor, that
rich capitalist across the bay, should be called Fletcher, and
"James Fletcher" too, for Diego meant "James" in Spanish. Exactly
the same name as poor "Cousin Jim" who disappeared. Did he remember
her old playmate Jim? But her brother thought something else was a
deuced sight more odd, namely, that this same Don Diego Fletcher was
said to be very sweet on Clementina now, and was always in her
company at the Ramirez. And that, with this "Clarion" apology on
the top of it, looked infernally queer.

Mrs. Ashwood felt a sudden consternation. Here had she--Jack's
sister--just been taking Jack's probable rival into confidential
correspondence! She turned upon Jack sharply:--

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